Sunday 30 January 2011

Prion's War Library Reprints And A Couple of Missing Jewels...

A comment from Mykal regarding his admiration for the U.K.'s war pocket libraries which he sourced via a series of jumbo sized reprints published by Prion and Carlton books reminded me of some unfinished business that attaches to a couple of the volumes reprinting that wonderful series of war comics that flourished throughout the sixties under the title of Battle Picture Library.

The books which are magnificently edited by Steve Holland (famed in the blogosphere for his indispensable Bear Alley Blog) are a really excellent introduction to these comics as he has chosen some truly amazing stories to fulfill the brief of presenting the reader with some of the best stories and artwork to appear in these comics at the peak of their popularity. The stories were in the main written by a generation of writers that had actually seen action as front line troops and as such the stories had an immediacy and authenticity that a lot of subsequent war comics lacked.

There are several of these collections available via Amazon and they are all well worth picking up. My only (minor'ish) criticism of the earlier ones in the series are that the scanning of the original comics (the artwork having been incinerated in the early '90's at a time when nostalgic collectors would have gladly bought the boards) was cursory to say the least. The second criticism that applies to a couple of the collections was that the proof checking was equally slipshod and as such a couple of pages in two of the volumes; "Death And Glory" and "Up And At Em" were printed twice over and in the process a couple of pages were dropped. Leaving readers with the unsatisfactory experience of having not entirely experienced the stories, "The Rats of Tobruk" and "Death and Glory" in their entirety.

So as a way of redressing this interruption to these stories I have scanned in the pages at high resolution so you can print them off and insert them into your otherwise incomplete books.
The pages in question are "Rats of Tobruk" page 48 and "Death and Glory" page 47. The artwork for these two stories are by two of the most talented artists to work in these comics; Gino D'Antonio and Renzo Calegari. The affinity that they share for dynamic handling of light and sublime action drawing, resulted in them not only sharing studio space but collaborating on D'Antonio's "La Storia del West", a partnership which was eventually interrupted when in 1969  Calegari decided to dedicate the best part of ten years working for the Italian Communist Party.

I've included the title pages of each story just as a taster, so that if you haven't already got these books on your shelves you will feel an irresistible urge to go and order them from Amazon now.

I am also going to present you with the covers in color as an added bonus, so you can see the work of Giorgio D'Gaspari and Allesandro Biffignandi as readers did some fifty years ago.

All images © IPC Media 2011

Thursday 27 January 2011

Commando Hits It's Half Century

2011 is a significant year for DC Thomson's Commando comic. As previously recounted on this blog the comic debuted in the summer of 1961 and as the UK's longest running war comic has now hit it's half century. There are some exciting developments as the title not only casts a nostalgic look back at it's illustrious past but also takes a step into the world of future publishing with subscribers able to avail themselves of the space and wallet friendly alternative of a  digital subscription.

The plan is to reprint all the first twelve issues of Commando in reverse order so issue 12 "The Desperate Days" is where the project kicks off. As Thomson's unlike their competitors actually hung onto the artwork created for those comics, collectors will be able to see superb reproductions of Ken Barr's paintings, not to mention the equally compelling artwork of Gordon Livingstone, Raphael Auraleon and Ferran Sostres which helped make those comics so gripping first time around. It's good to see the reprints retaining the original cover lettering which just adds that extra degree of cool retro to the whole project.

So the bad/ good news is that even if by some minor miracle you have the original editions, you're going to have to buy them all over again (bad news) because the quality of repro on those Ken Barr covers is the best they've ever looked (good news).

Added to which editor Calum Laird as part of the ongoing campaign at Commando HQ to shed more light on the creators behind these little gems, includes an introduction to each of these stories. The reprint net is however being thrown further than just the first twelve issues and other titles from the 1960's are also being released.

I'm hoping that the list will include "Man Trap", which I still think is a brilliant pairing of Matias Alonso's in your face Hogarth'esque (but even darker) artwork and a superb script (Boutland) with a Jordi Penalva cover as the cherry on the cake.

But aside from embracing digital technology Commando remains one of the very few (we're talking counting on the fingers of one hand) UK titles to produce new action and adventure comics on a regular basis, the stories take in a much broader historical sweep than they did fifty years ago and they continue to be provide great entertainment for a modest outlay - very modest if you opt for the minimalist friendly download.

Just think no more embarrassing scenes as you try to intercept the postman before your missus realizes that you are making further demands on 'lebensraum' for your burgeoning collection.

So take a trip over to the Commando website (which is one of the best website's I've come across by a comic publisher - very interactive and really informative) and then agonize over what sort of subscription you want/ need .

All images © DC Thomson 2011

Wednesday 26 January 2011

The Aeronautical Artistry of Kostas Kavvathias - An Update!

 A few weeks ago I posted some truly amazing examples of aeronautical artwork by Greek artist Kostas Kavvathias. The reaction to Kostas artwork was as I anticipated very positive and there was demand for more samples of his artistry and enquiries as to whether or not Kostas had a website.

I am pleased to be able to report that Kostas has now got his website up and running and it's well worth a visit as you will be able to get much more of a feel for the way that Kostas creates his stunning artwork - it's all done by hand folks - as well as a bit more on the story of how and why Kostas became so determined to pursue his career as an aviation artist par excellence.

It's worth mentioning that while Kostas is kept busy providing superb artwork for kit manufacturers such as Trumpeter and Hobby Boss, not to mention The Greek Air Force, he is keen to explore new markets. As he is a long time fan of the supremely talented Ian Kennedy (in fact it was seeing Ian's work in the pages of Air Ace Picture Library and Commando comics that was an added spur to Kostas own determination to pursue a career in art) it would be great to see him tackle some Commando covers.

Here in the meantime are some reminders of Kostas aviation art and here is a link to his website.

All images © Kostas Kavvathias 2011

Monday 24 January 2011

The Curious Case of Walter Potter and the Stufffed Animals that Bite

Somewhat sobering but as something that has the potential to affect a lot of us I am honor bound to share this information with you. On Saturday I had an email from a very good friend of mine who runs a blog for the benefit of the art students who she teaches. She had posted a piece on an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Everything featuring the work of the celebrated Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter. Potter was indeed a curious character, whose work revolved around stuffing small animals and dressing them up in Victorian costume all the better for them to inhabit the miniature school rooms and other mini-environments he had constructed for them. My friend had done a Google search for an image of one of Walter Potter's works with which to illustrate her posting. She chose what to all intents and purposes was a very innocuous photo (not the one above) of a group of stuffed baby rabbits in a miniature classroom.

This weekend she received a very intimidating letter from a German photographer who as the copyright owner of the photograph (which in effect had been originally sourced from a postcard with his copyright indicated) wanted payment within a fortnight of some €450.00 for usage of this image. His letter which was forthright to say the least stated that if this payment wasn't met by the due date, he would press for additional payments including lawyer's fees and interest totaling some €5000.00 and to further emphasize the seriousness of his intent he cited a previous example where he successfully sued a German publisher for DM 31,000.00.

Needless to say my good friend has been in an agitated state for much of the weekend, she has removed the offending photo but the guy is not to be so easily mollified. He is pressing for payment and is also pursuing bloggers in the States, Iceland and the UK, including the US blogger who had hosted the site from which my friend had sourced the photo.

I've done a lot of research from my end and learned enough about the dos and don'ts of copyright law and blogging to realize that a lot of bloggers, myself included are sitting on legal time bombs of our own construction.

For anyone with a blog that uses images from comics that aren't their own creation, the defense of "educational purposes" won't make much headway when copyright lawyers get stuck in. We're all hoping that as we're promoting comics the fates will smile on us but as my friend has just discovered, you just need one person with an axe to grind for your world to be brutally upended.

She is now faced with seeking advice from a copyright lawyer at £400.00 per hour or paying off her plaintiff and hoping he'll leave her alone.

In the meantime here's a couple of useful links:

Link 1


Link 2

Needless to say the thought that my blog in common with a lot of other comic orientated blogs, is a potential legal time bomb is giving me a certain amount of pause for thought.

Watch this space ...

for as long as it's around!!!

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Gene Vincent Method

I remember the illustrator Chris McEwan telling me many years ago about the ongoing love affair that the French have for all things American. He'd spent some time in Paris working in an ad agency and picked up this vibe fairly quickly. This applies in spades to their adoration of rock n roll and when in 1961 Gene Vincent having pretty much run out of mileage in the U.S. moved to London and commenced a series of tours in Europe the singer couldn't get over the reaction that he received from audiences in London and Paris. In fact the French just couldn't get enough of Gene and leather clad rock n rollers such as Vince Taylor and the Playboys made a good career move by relocating to France to fill the gap in demand.

1961 was the year that Ervin Taylor was born and this Frenchman is just one example of the vibrant and thriving rockabilly movement that Vincent helped spawn.

Here's an example of this guy in action - more method performer than mere tribute band leader.

And for Mykal and all other Gene Vincent devotees, here's film of the man himself performing "Rocky Road Blues" with a French back up band in a cinema somewhere in Brussels in October 1963/

Friday 21 January 2011

Friday Night Mash Up

As regular visitors to this blog have come to realize, I don't just blog about comics, I blog about trash culture in general and a constant refrain of mine is just how anodyne rock n roll has become. I love listening to new stuff but NOT what I'm told to listen to. I'd rather go off and search out new bands signed to small labels than listen to the safe and predictable stuff that is on the current sounds for 2011 list served up by the Beeb. If only on the basis that if these people sincerely believe that Strictly Come Dancing and Eastenders is the cutting edge of entertaining TV than I'd rather be left to work out for myself how best to fill my downtime.

So here is a film of one of my current faves:

and here is a truly amazing mash up courtesy of Afternoon Ninja who's sussed that a lot of Primal Scream's mesmerizing output is a succession of reworkings of The Rolling Stones 1968 classic; "Sympathy For The Devil". Anoraks will doubtless note the presence of a certain Mr. Mick Jones (of The Clash fame).

Friday 14 January 2011

Jerry Robinson and Volume 2 of The Batman Archives

Volume 2 of The Batman Archives was one of those books that I along with many other devotees of the golden age of Batmania awaited with high expectations. This was in 1991 when DC's Archives series were being regularly issued, with each selected title seeing a new addition to the line on an annual basis. The book in question was particularly promising insofar as it included the cream of Jerry Robinson's Detective Comics covers spanning the transition where his work initially cleaving close to the style established by his erstwhile employer Bob Kane soon showed a distinct influence of the amazing artistry of his friend and studio colleague Mort Meskin.

When Volume 2 of The Batman Archives eventually arrived it was something of a disappointment, insofar as aside from the truly horrible oversaturated colors which had left no allowance for the fact that the books would be printed on glossy paper stock, many of the best examples of Jerry Robinson's covers looked not just poorly scanned, they actually looked as if they had been traced and badly traced at that.

The truth was that the people tasked with creating the reconstructions had been supplied with several coverless issues of the comics concerned. DC simply didn't have much in the way of a golden age archive and many of the tatty issues that they did have to hand the restorers were sans covers. This meant that the team had to resort to blowing up the adverts for those issues which were reproduced on a small scale from other comics which appeared at the time.

Things have moved on apace since those days and by and large the covers and in fact many of the stories which have appeared more recently (Dark Knight Archives Volume 6 being a particularly fine example) are much more satisfactory.

But here for those Batman devotees still grieving over the horrible repro job that Batman Archive Volume 2 did on some prime Robinson covers are the original covers with the Archives versions to contrast and compare.

Note in particular Detective 60, where Robinson who was still confined to inking Kane's covers, has erased all Kane's original pencils (as was his practice by this stage) and redrawn the whole thing which was probably the prompt for him not to ink up Kane's signature.

Detective 65 is also notable as Robinson is literally jamming with Simon and Kirby as they provide the figure of The Boy Commandos and by issue 66 and it's sequel issue 68 we are into the cream of Robinson's Meskin influenced artistry.

Really beautiful work and for me Jerry Robinson at his best.

I have I must admit cribbed some of these scans from the excellent Heritage Auction site - go and check them out!

All images © DC Comics 2011

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Wulf The Briton - An Update!

Hopefully this will be the last update on the status of Wulf before the book is published, although it's always fun to talk about projects in the pipeline the fact that this particular book has been delayed longer than any of us would happily have countenanced has got all of us just longing to get  the book in our hands.

To briefly reprise the reason for the delays, we had later than expected arrival of the proofs, which  had been held back by the publisher until he could ship across the leather bound slipcased edition in the same consignment. The box we received weighed a ton with several hundred proofs in addition to the leather clad maquette. The proofs were by and large great but there were two considerations we had to wrestle with.

Firstly - and very importantly, the paper Book Palace Books had specified was not the paper that the proofs were supplied on. The proofs which superficially looked great were in fact on a gloss surface paper, the result was that the pages were if anything richer and brighter than the original comics and a lot brighter than Ron Embleton's original artwork would have been. Having seen a lot of Embleton artwork over the years, including pages which have been carefully stored well away from light, we knew what we were looking for in terms of repro and the paper was a very important part of that equation.

We needed to get back to our very helpful Chinese printer and get them to run us off proofs on the correct paper before pressing the go straight to print button. Meanwhile yours truly was fretting about areas of drop out and other minor imperfections that necessitated more unobtrusive restoration work. This ended up taking a heck of a lot longer than I originally anticipated but working with the proofs as well as the original comics was the key to ironing out those minor defects.

We eventually received the proofs on the correct paper and putting the pages next to the original comics was just astonishing.

... there was no perceptible difference on the pages. The paper in conjunction with the scans and the careful restoration of all those colors and tones that normally get the crap knocked out of them with this sort of procedure were both singing from the same hymn sheet.

We were ready to send back the humungus box, but by this stage the snows of late November had descended and we were unable to send anything anywhere. By the time we did get the stuff sent off to China our printer who is every bit as much a perfectionist as the rest of the Book Place Team insisted on doing another run of proofs just to ensure that all the re-tweaked files met our expectations.

So another box etc, etc.

However not all bad news, first the book is even better than it would have been and second we were able to add some new pages to the original artwork section of the leather edition and even after all the files had gone to China another fabulous piece depicting Wulf and his companions in the thrall of Viking invaders, surfaced courtesy of Paul Stephenson publisher of the brilliant Frank Hampson biography "Tomorrow Revisited".

So as a special thank you we are going to enclose a limited edition print of this fabulous Ron Embleton Wulf artwork  (same dimensions as the original Express Weekly comic) with each copy of the book to everyone that has or will have pre-ordered this book. There are in all 200 copies of this print and we will send them out as long as supplies last.

In the meantime many thanks from all of us to you for your patience and forbearance.

For ordering details please go to Book Palace Books, ordering from the publisher direct is the best way to avoid the whopping mark up that you will encounter once a distributor becomes involved in the equation.

All images © Express Newspapers 2011

Tuesday 11 January 2011

A Corben Classic in Rarely Seen Color

When Richard Corben's fabulous artwork for Doug Moench's "Change Into Something Comfortable" appeared in James Warren's Creepy waaayyyyy back in 1973, it was printed in black and white. For some reason the color insert was in absentia, might have been budgetary reasons but whatever ... it was black and white as was the subsequent reprint in Eerie.

Check out the excellent Black N' White And Red All Over to see the black and white version.

And now enjoy the color version courtesy of the color printing by Catalan Communications some ten years later.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Monte Cassino - A Place in the Sun For The D-Day Dodgers

Monte Cassino was one of those battles that resonated in the mind of a generation of school boys brought up in the years that followed the end of the Second World War. Part of the Italian Campaign; Winston Churchill's plan to provide an alternative route to Berlin before Stalin's Soviet hordes could occupy the whole German capital by launching a joint US and UK thrust through the "soft underbelly of Europe" as he rather quaintly put it. The lot of the "D-Day Dodgers" as they were christened, was just dreadful, involving bitter fighting against an implacable enemy through some of the roughest terrain in atrocious weather conditions. The misery being further compounded by the rivalries of the US (Mark Clark) and UK (Montgomery) generals responsible for achieving what was rapidly turning into a Herculean task.

As the Allies worked their way northwards and the terrain became progressively more precipitous, so the campaign bogged down and it was at the abbey of Monte Cassino where the outcome of the whole campaign would be decided.

Here then is more of Ron Embleton's truly astonishing artistry as he visits this battle twice. Firstly in TV Express from 1960 and then some three years later in the pages of Look and Learn magazine.